Building a Brighter Future: Marvin Whitfield, PhD, and the Mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Ohio

Marvin Whitfield, PhD

By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter

In the heart of Toledo, where challenges meet opportunity, one organization stands as a beacon of hope and transformation. Led by visionary Marvin Whitfield, PhD, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Ohio (BBBSNWO) is rewriting the narrative for hundreds of local youth. With a mission to ignite potential and a commitment to innovative programming, they’re not just mentoring; they’re shaping the future, one person at a time.

As the Chief Executive Officer, Whitfield embodies a mission of transformation and empowerment. Under his leadership, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Ohio has expanded its impact, implementing innovative programs that address the evolving and very specific needs of our community’s youth.

A Legacy of Impact

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Ohio began in 1937 and merged independent programs in 1980. Today, the organization serves over 1,500 children annually in Lucas and Wood counties, with a vision to match every child in need with a mentor.

Leadership in Crisis

Whitfield joined BBBSNWO in 2019 during a tumultuous period. With a background in law enforcement and youth advocacy, he stabilized the agency and rebuilt its reputation. “I agreed to an interim position with BBBS in January of 2020 for 90 days pro bono to do an assessment to see how we could rebuild their image and improve visibility to get the organization out of debt,” he recalls.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic extended his tenure, leading him to donate his salary back to the organization and spearhead a comprehensive restructuring effort.

“Both the University of Toledo and the City of Toledo did a great job collecting data regarding the needs of our city’s youth. Mentoring will always be an important factor of what we do at BBBS but we found adding programming to be essential for addressing the broader needs of our youth and ensuring their comprehensive development,” explains Whitfield.

Empowering Future Leaders

After analyzing the data, Whitfield and his team developed the Empowering Future Leaders, each aspect addressing critical needs within our community. This year-round program includes after-school activities, classroom curricula, and summer programs, built around four pillars:

  1. Life Skills: Addressing heightened exposure to crime and violence and rising youth suicide rates, particularly in communities of color.
  2. Cultural Competence: Encouraging youth to embrace new cultures and environments, fostering a broader worldview.
  3. Leadership Development: Helping children see themselves as future leaders through tailored guidance and support.
  4. Career Development: Providing early career exposure and mentorship to set youth on the path to professional success.

“I was fortunate because I knew what I wanted to do at age 12. I started working in law enforcement as a teenager and retired at 39. I want to give youth access to these types of opportunities and exposure,” adds Whitfield.

A Community Effort

BBBSNWO thrives on community support. Funded by national, regional, and local sources, including the United Way of Greater Toledo and the Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, the agency relies on events like their annual national Bowl for Kids’ Sake to raise crucial funds. This event exemplifies the spirit of collaboration that drives BBBS. Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, Gale Nelson, Thaddaeus Washington and Maya May all participated in this year’s spring event, highlighting our community’s commitment to one another.

“It’s a two-way relationship; we grow as mentors relating to the youth we serve, and in turn, they inspire us with their resilience and potential. We learn as much from them as they do from us,” says Whitfield.

Tailored Mentorship

BBBSNWO carefully matches children with mentors who align with their interests, fostering meaningful relationships. Each match costs approximately $1,800 per year, covering activities, safety measures, and resources to ensure success for both mentors and mentees.

Expertise and Commitment

Whitfield’s extensive educational background includes a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice, a master’s in Criminal Justice Administration, and an MBA specializing in Human Resource Management. His doctorate research focused on how implicit-bias training influences an individual’s awareness, knowledge and skills in cultural competency. He frequently presents at local, state and national conferences and continues to publish articles on cultural competency and leadership development.

Beyond his role at BBBSNWO, Whitfield serves his community in various capacities, including as a member of the Rotary Club of Toledo, the Exchange Club of Toledo, the Toledo Opera Board of Directors, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Northwest Ohio. He also holds a position as a Special Deputy with the Wood County Sheriff’s Office and sits on several coalitions promoting social equality, trauma-informed care, and youth resilience.

A Vision for the Future

Under Whitfield’s leadership, BBBSNWO continues evolving to meet the unique needs of Toledo’s youth while maintaining timeless values of mentorship and support.

“The trend I’ve seen is generally once a child is 12 to 13, they are in an early stage of adulthood in their own minds and they don’t always revere mentors as role models like children in past generations. Instead, today’s youth is much more self-initiative based,” he observes.

This insight drives the Empower Teacher Leaders program, blending mentorship and self-driven experiences to prepare youth for a successful future. By bringing in special guests and offering diverse experiences, BBBSNWO ensures every child has the opportunity to thrive.

As Whitfield and his team continue their vital work, the future of northwest Ohio’s youth looks brighter than ever. Their unwavering dedication and innovative approaches to mentorship and youth development are shaping a generation of confident, resilient leaders who will undoubtedly make a positive impact on our communities and beyond. Marvin Whitfield and the entire team at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Ohio are diligently using their efforts to build a brighter future for this area’s youth.

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